A Tale Of ‘Too Big To Fail’ In Higher Education

"For the last two years, the City College of San Francisco has operated in the shadow of imminent death," The New York TimesUpshot reports.

"Its brush with mortality illustrates a much larger problem in higher education. Millions of students are enrolled in colleges accountable to no one other than accreditors that lack the will and authority to govern them. Because the consequences of closing these institutions are so severe, they have become, in effect, 'too big to fail.' …

Politicians generally take a hands-off approach to higher education. While many big-city mayors have staked their careers on turning around troubled K-12 school systems, it is rare to see a major political effort focused on fixing dysfunctional local community college. Slots on public university boards of trustees, which are ostensibly charged with protecting the public interest, are often given as political favors to donors and alumni.

Private nonprofit colleges are subject to little, if any, direct oversight, even though many of them receive a vast majority of their revenue from federal financial aid. For-profit higher education corporations have received greater scrutiny in recent years, including Corinthian Colleges, which is in the process of closing down in the face of declining enrollment and multiple government investigations into its marketing practices and job placement rates. But Corinthian’s shutdown is happening in spite of the accreditation system. All of its campuses remain accredited today. And federal regulators are far less likely to scrutinize a public institution like City College.

It all adds up to unaccountable, too-big-to-fail institutions that are falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to helping students learn and making sure they graduate."

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